When anyone with the latest iPhone can call themselves a photographer, successfully selling photos online can be challenging.
However, many photographers make money through online photography businesses by carefully selecting a niche, nurturing social media followers, and partnering with photography licensing platforms.
Here are 17 of the most popular places to sell photos online, plus advice on how to sell stock photos.
Table of contents
Best places to sell photos online
Licensing is one of the most popular ways to sell photos online. Stock photo websites will license your photos to brands, agencies, and anyone who needs a high-quality image for commercial use. Then, they’ll give you a cut of the revenue.
If you are building a portfolio of professional-quality images, become a contributor to a stock photo site to monetize your collection. Choose a website from this list, based on your level of photography experience and licensing exclusivity preferences.
Alamy has one of the internet’s most diverse stock photo collections, with more than 300 million stock images, vectors, videos, and 360-degree panoramic images. It also offers an app called Stockimo, where you can sell photos from your phone.
Alamy pays contributors monthly and has several commission models. Photographers receive between 17% and 50% of sales depending on image popularity and license type. There are no long-term contracts with Alamy and you can be paid in multiple currencies.
500px Licensing hosts millions of photographers selling photos online through its stock photography site, 500px. Its distribution partners serve more than one million customers around the world and are the go-to choice for creative content.
500px is also a community-based platform for amateur and professional photographers. You can follow other photographers, list photos in the online marketplace, and participate in photography competitions for prizes. Paid members can earn up to 100% royalties and free users can earn up to 60% for exclusive photos.
3. SmugMug Pro
Whether you’re a new photographer or an established pro, SmugMug can help sell your stock photos online with a portfolio, sales platform, and other tools. SmugMug lets you keep 85% of the profit between the price you set and SmugMug’s default print prices.
To use SmugMug, you’ll need to sign up for one of three monthly membership plans.
Shutterstock is a well-known stock photography website for selling photos online and has paid out more than $1 billion to its community in the past 15 years. Shutterstock is considered a micro-stock site, where photos are cheaper and non-exclusive. The main way to increase downloads is by contributing a large quantity of images. You may not expect to earn as much with Shutterstock, but it’s a good place to start if you’re learning how to sell stock photos.
Payouts are based on earnings over time and range from 20% to 30%. There’s also an affiliate program where you can earn additional money if you refer new photographers or customers.
5. iStock Photo
iStock Photo is part of Getty Images. The major difference between the two stock photo platforms is that photos on iStock can be non-exclusive, which means you can sell your photography with other agencies.
Commissions range from 15% to 45%, depending on contributor agreements. To sell photos with iStock, you need to apply with a set of sample images.
6. Getty Images
Getty Images attracts brands and online publishers looking for high-quality or hard-to-find exclusive images to license. The platform, along with its microstock site, iStock, reaches over 1.5 million customers around the world.
The standards for how to sell your photography online with Getty are stricter than many other stock photo sites. However, rates for submissions of high-quality photos licensed through Getty Images start at 20% and can reach higher. You will also have to apply to be a contributor with a set of sample photos.
Stocksy is a popular stock photography site. It is one of the best ways to sell photos online for many publishers and creatives, because Stocksy offers high payouts to contributors. Photographers can earn a 50% royalty on standard licenses and a 75% royalty on extended licenses. But all photos must be exclusive to the platform.
Stocksy is an artist-owned cooperative, which means contributors are part owners of the business and can help control its direction. Contributors can also receive profit-sharing in the form of patronage returns when the co-op has a surplus.
If you’re interested in selling photos on Stocksy, check out its contributor application FAQ.
8. Can Stock Photo
More than 100,000 photographers sell photos online with Can Stock Photo. The site offers various payout structures in both percentages and fixed amounts. When you sell photos on Can Stock Photo, it also lists your photos for sale on Fotosearch, a stock photography agency.
9. Adobe Stock
If you use the Adobe suite for photography projects, you can add your images, videos, vectors, and illustrations to Adobe Stock, the company’s online stock photo platform. Assets can be uploaded directly from Lightroom and Bridge. Contributors who link their Adobe ID to Adobe Stock can earn 33% royalties.
10. Envato Elements
Envato Elements is a robust stock photography site where you can sell photos online and connect with potential clients. With Envato Elements, you can sell photos on its app or upload photos to your own site on the brand’s domain. Either way, it’s a popular place to sell pictures and make money online doing what you love. Contributors are paid a 50% share of net subscription revenue.
Depositphotos is a global marketplace for visual content with a library of more than 270 million files and 38 million worldwide clients. The platform is used by leading international companies including Bosch, TripAdvisor, and Subaru. Depositphotos pays based on a contributor’s experience and status on the website, as well as the image resolution and license type. Commissions range between 25¢ and $33.82 per photo.
Since 2000, Dreamstime has provided high-quality images to clients in the creative market—from independent customers in the private sector to Fortune 500 companies. The stock agency has over 50 million registered members and more than a million contributing photographers.
Dreamstime offers up to 60% royalties to contributors. To earn top commissions, however, you must be an exclusive user. Non-exclusive contributors can earn 25% to 45%, depending on image popularity.
EyeEm focuses on advertising stock photography, making it a relevant place to sell photos online if you work in commercial photography. Their clients include Apple and Spotify. You can also get booked for shoots through a dedicated site feature. Images uploaded to EyeEm also appear on Getty for greater visibility. Contributors can receive a license revenue share of up to 55%, depending on total annual revenue.
All content on 123RF is non-exclusive, so you can sell your images on its platform as well as on other websites. 123RF markets your photos to more than 10 million registered users. Once you become a contributor, you can earn between 30% and 60% of each license sold.
Foap is defined by its community of more than three million creatives. The site offers contributors different ways to sell photography, including per-image fees and Missions, where brands submit a brief and set a cash prize for winning pitches. Foap clients include KraftHeinz, Nivea, and Volvo.
With Zenfolio, you can build a portfolio to showcase your work, attract customers, and sell your photos. The platform offers print and digital product options. You’ll need a subscription to use Zenfolio, which starts at $3.50 per month, if paid annually, and the company charges a service fee of 6.9% for self-fulfilled products and 9.9% for vendor and digital products.
Pixieset offers photographers the ability to share, deliver, and sell photos online. With Pixieset, you can create an online store to sell photography prints, products, and more with automatic fulfillment. Pixieset takes a 15% commission for free plans, but 0% on paid plans, which start at $8 per month, when billed annually.
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How to sell stock photos
Now that you know where to sell photos online, you can learn how to sell stocks photos as a successful and legitimate business.
1. Define your stock photography niche
Successful photographers have a consistent style or theme that runs through their work. Whether your focus is travel, fashion, nature, or food, consistency is key. Photographers often feel their way into a niche by finding styles and subjects that resonate with audiences. You can evaluate the demand for topics using keyword research to analyze search volume for terms related to your photographs. Google Trends is a basic tool for assessing popular search terms. Use Trends to see what image topics are becoming more in-demand.
2. Get on Instagram
Just like bloggers and YouTubers, photographers learning how to sell images online should also invest in building their audiences.
Visual social platforms such as Instagram can help you reach a wide audience. Utilize Instagram tools to help you follow the right accounts, engage with popular hashtags, and grow a following of potential customers.
There are also photo-sharing sites that can connect you with other photographers, help you build a following and, depending on the platform, sell licenses to use your digital photos.
Linking your various accounts makes it easier to manage your photo-sharing across platforms, which is good for visibility. On Instagram, for example, you can link your accounts to also post your images to Facebook at the same time.
3. Integrate ecommerce into your stock photo website
Most photographers have their own site to showcase their work to potential clients. By adding a Buy Button to your site, you can make it easier for customers to purchase images from you.
Photographer Dave Sandford, for example, has a store that both showcases his wildlife photography and offers the opportunity to purchase prints and calendars.
The easiest way to sell photos online is to build a portfolio or store on Shopify. Use a pre-designed art and photography theme to set up your digital showroom, or combine a free theme with a gallery app. After that, you can monetize your Shopify photography site with social media feeds, ads, and offline sales through Shopify POS.
How to sell stock photos as prints and photo books
You can make and sell items that feature your photography for your customers to own, whether it’s as a simple framed print or a pillow. Selling your own physical products can be simpler than you think.
You can upload your photographs and sell your pictures as photo prints on paper or physical products, such as mugs, t-shirts, and calendars. Popular sites and tools include:
The best way to sell photos online as physical prints or products is to work with a local photo lab that ships prints, or use a print-on-demand company to dropship a wide range of products (prints, phone cases, pillows, and more) featuring your photos.
Be sure to order samples first to ensure the quality of the products match the quality of your photos.
How to sell photography online as photo books
Photo books are another physical product that can feature your photography. The more niche and consistent your photography is, the more likely you’ll be able to put together a stellar photo book based around a compelling theme and sell your art online.
While you won’t get the best margins with print-on-demand services, it’s a risk-free way to test demand for your products before you decide to invest upfront.
How to sell your photography as a service
Whether you’re covering events, doing fashion shoots, or getting into product photography, there are plenty of business opportunities available to take advantage of the demand for professional photography. You can list your services in freelance directories like Fiverr and Upwork, or apply to be a Shopify Expert. But also consider networking locally, since you need to be able to meet clients in person.
Here are some networking tips for selling your photography as a service::
- Always have business cards handy—you never know when you might meet a potential client. (Use Shopify’s free business card generator to create your own.)
- Tidy up your LinkedIn profile, showcase your work, and optimize it for the main photography service you provide (event photography, for example).
- Attend networking events where entrepreneurs and event organizers go—these folks will often have need for a professional photographer.
- Build a personal brand as a photographer so you’re top of mind when anyone in your network needs your skills.
Since photographers, unlike other freelancers, must operate in strict time slots, it’s good to have a booking platform you can use to let prospective clients see your schedule and book you when you’re available.
Now, let’s talk about usage rights and protecting your work—the next step in selling your photos online.
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Legal primer for selling photos online
While rights and licenses related to selling photography may seem confusing, there are key terms and concepts you should know to help protect yourself.
This is by no means a comprehensive list or a substitute for actual legal advice, but it should offer you broad definitions that will help you navigate the world of usage rights.
Glossary of legal terms for selling photos online
- Editorial use: Permission to use in blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other publications.
- Commercial use: Permission to use in marketing and advertising to promote a product or service.
- Retail use: Permission to use in the creation of a physical product to be sold. This includes prints, posters, and products that feature the photo (pillows, mugs, etc.). This term is sometimes discussed in the same context as commercial use, but it should be considered separately.
- Exclusive use: The one who purchases the license from you is the only one who can use the photo.
- Non-exclusive: Photo licenses that can be purchased and used by anyone and usually cost less than exclusive ones.
- Public domain: When photos have no restrictions or copyright claims and can be used for commercial, editorial, and personal purposes. Works created by US federal government agencies (such as NASA) generally fall into this category unless otherwise stated.
- Creative Commons: Conditional usage of your work is allowed, as long as it’s in compliance with the stated restrictions. Attribution to credit the creator is sometimes required. Visit Creative Commons to generate a badge for this license for free.
- Royalty free: Others can buy a license and use the photo for an unlimited duration and unlimited number of times. This is the most common type of license purchased and is on the cheaper end of the spectrum because these photos are usually non-exclusive.
- Rights managed: A one-time license can be purchased to use the photo with restrictions regarding distribution. Additional licenses must be purchased for additional use.
- Right of publicity: The subjects in your photos are entitled to certain rights when it comes to their inclusion in your photography, especially when it comes to commercial use when you sell photos online. This is a separate concern from the copyright considerations above and you should seek a subject’s explicit permission first in order to be safe.
What to do if someone steals your photos
Theft is common when it comes to content, and many people do it unknowingly.
Photographers can watermark their digital images before selling them online to provide some layer of protection against theft. If you’re going to sell or share your own photos, you can apply identifying marks in Photoshop or use a watermark generator.
A smaller watermark, often in the corner, will have less of an impact on your photo, while a larger watermark with reduced opacity offers the most protection against theft.
But what do you do if someone decides to steal and use your photos anyway? A cease and desist request will usually work. Or you can send the culprit an invoice for using your photo. A combination of the two will likely be the most effective at persuading the perpetrator by offering them the choice to either pay you or take the photo down.
At the very least, you should always try to get others to credit you whenever they borrow your work, even if it’s just for editorial purposes. Remember that links back to your portfolio site are not only good for driving traffic to your other work but are also good for search engine optimization and helping your standing in Google search results.
Turning your photos into profit
Selling photos is a great online business idea. Whether photography is your profession or hobby, or a lucrative side hustle, there are more avenues than ever before when it comes to selling photos online.
Your talent and your determination ultimately decide your earning potential, but the income you get from doing what you love is some of the best cash you’ll ever earn.
Illustration by Eugenia Mello
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FAQ: Selling photos online FAQ
What is the best way to sell photographs?
The best way to sell photographs online is by selling them as stock images for sale on third-party websites like iStockPhoto, Dreamstime, Shutterstock, or 123RF. Selling your photos through stock sites is quick, easy, and affordable.
Where can I sell my photos online for money?
Some of the most popular place for selling photos online include:
- On your own website
- SmugMug Pro
- Getty Images
- Can Stock Photo
- Adobe Stock
- Envato Elements
How do you make money from stock photography?
A stock photography website, or stock agency, sells high-priced and exclusive images that you upload. The agency licenses individual images to the client and sells them for a set price. Then you, the photographer, get a royalty payment.